Search This Blog


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Has Billy Joel appointed his successor?

Nice story here about Michael DelGuidice, a musician who went from being in a Billy Joel tribute band to being hired by Joel to play in his band and help him out with the vocals.

The best tribute bands are better than the bands they're based on because they work harder at it and as soon as one member can't do the job they replace him.

The best backing singers are better than the singers they back because they're younger.

A few years back I saw the bus carrying "The Glenn Miller Orchestra". Obviously none of the original musicians and clearly no Glenn. They're licensed by Glenn Miller Productions. They keep the sound alive and cater for the audience that wants to hear that sound.

Maybe Billy Joel Productions will be doing the same thing in the future.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"Hillbilly Elegy" is a reminder just how foreign a lot of America is

Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how J.D. Vance made it from a very unpromising background - born into family of suspicious hillbilly folk transplanted from Kentucky to post-industrial Ohio, growing up amid domestic chaos with an addict mother and a succession of father figures - to an entirely new life as a successful lawyer and writer. It's been cited as a useful guide to what's persuading many Americans that Trump's the solution to what ails them.

He serves as an officer in the U.S. Marines, which helps pay for him to go to university and he gets into the law school at Yale, by which time you'd assume that he would have seen enough of the world outside Middletown, Ohio to be able to handle most social situations. It almost comes apart when at a dinner thrown by one of the big law firms who come to recruit at Yale he tastes sparkling water for the first time and is so unused to the taste that he spits it out in disgust.

No nation has a monopoly of insularity but one of the things about growing up in the UK is you're aware that there is a world out there bigger than the world of home. For a start there's the the other world you see every time you switch on the TV, which is usually America. You quickly learn the world is full of unfamiliar things, some of which you might encounter at some point, and you tend to be ready for them.

Monday, October 10, 2016

You couldn't make up the Jeremy Thorpe affair

Maybe A Very English Scandal is as good as it is is because John Preston couldn't publish it until Jeremy Thorpe died in 2014.

I like to think he used that time polishing his account of the Norman Scott affair until it gleams like a truly superior airport novel.

It couldn't be an actual airport novel. The story it tells is too tawdry. Instead of a climax it has a misfire. It's a misfire that fits perfectly with all the bungling that led to it. The two main protagonists both act as though the world owes them a living. Everybody else in the story is just used.

It's a story replete with English types no airport novelist would dare invent: Thorpe's cigar-smoking, monocle-wearing mother who lived on boiled eggs; the eccentric peer of the realm who played a saintly role in homosexual law reform and had badgers roaming free in his home; the chancer Peter Bessell who had to atone for his role as Thorpe's consigliere by living out his days in a one-room shack on a California beach; the extraordinary George Carman QC who could be mortally drunk at two in the morning and then rise in the morning to twist a jury round his little finger; the almost inevitable appearance in the narrative of Jimmy Saville.

I read it in a couple of sittings. It would make a great film. That'll never happen because no American could possibly begin to understand how weird England can be. Shame.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Farewell to the rock reference book

Before the internet I had to have rock reference books to do my job. If I wanted to know what year a record came out I had to look it up in a book. Ditto the spelling of the surname of a producer or the age some star was claiming to be. There was nowhere else you could go.

Some of these books, like Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden's "Encyclopaedia Of Rock", and the "Rolling Stone Record Guide", lived at the office because I needed them all the time. And in those days the market for rock books was quite small and so they had a habit of going out of print for years. If you lost one it was the devil's own job to replace it.

Today I put all my music books in one room so that at least I know where they are. I don't want to be searching for hours for a book about Black Sabbath, like I did yesterday. At first I was giving pride of place to the reference books in my sort but now I realise they're the ones I no longer need to have to hand. I literally never open them. Wonder if we'll ever see a rock reference book again.

Friday, September 30, 2016

If somebody's paying you more than ten grand for making a speech, it's not the speech they're buying.

There have been a handful of occasions in my career when I've been paid quite well for making a speech. I'm sure the company signing the cheque thought I was charging too much. Then again they weren't there during the days and days of preparation. They weren't sharing in the pre-speech nausea during which I would have been quite happy to turn on my heel, go home, not put myself through the ordeal at all and let the money go hang.

But then people who can't make speeches think that people who can make speeches don't have to prepare. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people who can do it work hundreds of times harder at preparing than the people who can't. There may be a clue there.

I was thinking of this when reading about the sums of money the Clintons can command for making speeches to commercial organisations and then Sam Allardyce being caught talking about being paid £400k for making a speech. I'm sure all these people are eminently capable of holding a conference's delegates in the palm of their hand for forty minutes. But there's a point at which reasonable recompense shades into the controversial area of purchasing somebody's services. Here's a clue. If somebody's paying you more than ten grand for making a speech, it's not the speech they're buying.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Spotify's new "Daily Mix" feature is a nightmare for music radio and the music business

Spotify have just launched a new "Daily Mix" feature. This provides me with six playlists of tunes based on the kind of things I've been playing in the recent past. Although each of these lists reflects what you could call an area of music I like, they've wisely not given them names. I can't abide those buttons that demand I choose between "country" and "hard rock".

Instead the buttons are a montage of the artists featured within, which works out roughly as follows:
Playlist 1: the bands and songwriters I've listened to for a lot of the last forty years: Steely Dan, Paul McCartney, Boz Scaggs etc.
Playlist 2: the more tuneful side of jazz: Basie, Ellington, Bix, Coleman Hawkins etc.
Playlist 3: Classical: Scarlatti, Liszt, Handel, Vaughan William etc.
Playlist 4: the ambient music I never know the name of: Nils Frahm, Luke Howard, Max Richter etc.
Playlist 5: edgy hip-hop, dance-type stuff: Blood Orange, James Blake, Tame Impala etc.
Playlist 6: some rather twee French pop of the kind that gets used on the soundtracks of comedy films.

On one hand no algorithm will be able to make the intuitive leap that guarantees you'll love what's been chosen for you. On the other hand it's a sight more likely to satisfy you than whatever radio comes up with because all music radio is a product of compromise. The more successful it is the more compromised.

The Daily Mix will get better. You can educate it by promoting or demoting songs you feel strongly about one way or another.

Funny how things change. Music radio used to draw its strength from the fact that it had all the tunes. and we didn't. Nowadays we all have just as many tunes as they do and we're free to listen to whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it.

For music radio and the music business it's a nightmare.